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News, opinions and updates from the Virtuoso team.

Jan
26

6 Tips For Managing an Office Efficiently

As an Office Manager, it usually falls on you to keep the office running as efficiently as possible. But when you combine a company of people with different personalities, multiple pieces of office equipment and software media, and a never-ending list of distractions, managing an office efficiently can get a little tricky at times. But all this chaos shouldn’t prevent you. In fact, it should be motivation to keep your office in good form!

If you want to manage an office efficiently and develop your management and leadership skills, here are some office management tips to keep things running easily.

Prepare rather than react.

If you take the time to prepare for your day then you are ready for what happens rather than reacting to the situation when you are in it. Planning for the next day can take some of the stress and guesswork out of your daily life and may help you prioritise tasks more efficiently.

Help yourself out

Writing lists for each area that you cover can be a useful way to make the day seem less daunting. We love Todoist, which is a simple and easy tool for list-making and checking off.

https://en.todoist.com/

Having a schedule will help with planning the day and prioritising your to-do’s. You’ll be more aware of deadlines and make sure nothing is missed off. Make sure you schedule in some breaks too.

 

Set up a filing system that works for you

Most filing is digital now but you still need to be on top of what is stored and where. If the online system is baffling, figure out a more suitable method of filing and put it into place. Make sure that others understand the system too so that everyone is filing correctly.

Minimalise interruptions!

As an Office Manager, you will undoubtedly be answering a million questions at once whilst trying to keep on top of your regular tasks. Having a schedule will help organise your time and will actually help minimalise interruptions as you will be best placed to deal with queries at certain times according to your schedule when you can give it your full attention. Make sure that the times when you know will be quietest are used to their advantage. Turn your phone off, close the door, avoid unnecessary distractions.

Ask for feedback

Having a relationship that is based on openness and honesty within the workplace can do wonders for employee efficiency. Ask for feedback from other staff members and more crucially, respond to it with either a discussion or an active change to acknowledge that their feedback has been taken seriously. TinyPulse is an employee engagement platform that gives leaders online tools to measure and improve company culture.

https://www.tinypulse.com/

Delegate.

It’s hard to hand over responsibility when you know (or think) that it might just be quicker for you to do it. But it may well be a waste of your precious time and if you don’t get out of the habit of taking on too much, you’ll burn yourself out. For example, with computer system administration, make sure that one person is responsible for the security of your computer software and keeping track of passwords etc. Using cloud-based systems is an ideal solution for some and we can help by assuming the day-to-day tasks of your operations and delivery, with a strong focus on rigorous IT governance, quality and operational excellence. role.

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Jan
08

How to Successfully Onboard New Employees

It can always be a major challenge finding the right person to fill a newly vacant position. If you’re the person who has to organize the hiring and subsequent onboarding then there’s a lot more to the work than simply offering the lucky candidate the job and clunking them at a desk with a computer.

A mistake many companies make is thinking that as the candidate has proved themselves suitable through an often gruelling interview process, they will be just fine to be thrown into the position and given minimal supervision, as after all, didn’t they just sell themselves on their quick-learning and adaptability? Employers need to remember that it is THEIR role to ensure that the onboarding process is carried out thoroughly, efficiently and with the proper levels of communication with the new employee(s).

We are going to break down the key parts of the onboarding process and the best practices and key things to remember from each.

Employee Onboarding

First Steps: Don’t wait for your employee to start before you begin outboarding! There are many things you can do beforehand to help ease the transition and take some of the stress out of the first day. Create a checklist to ensure all documentation that they are expected to fill in is ready for them, and ensure that their manager or colleague are briefed as to the onboarding process and able to answer any questions the employee may have. Make sure that the new employee’s work area is set up and all technical equipment is working correctly and ready to be logged on with a new user. And lastly, it won't hurt to provide the new employee with any reading material about the company that they can read ahead of time to help familiarise themselves with the history of the company and/or the role.

What your new employee checklist should contain:

  • A review of company policies.
  • An introduction to their team and key colleagues.
  • A tour of office and workspace.
  • A review of general position information.
  • Assistance getting and setting up equipment, including computers.
  • A review of their upcoming schedule.
  • Ensuring that all necessary forms are filled out.
  • A review of work hours.

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.Tech know-how

It can be easy to forget that whilst you and your team may have been using the Super-Mega-CRM-3000 for the last 15 years and are all well versed in its quirks and technical specs, for a newbie it may be completely different to the system they are used to and will take some getting used to. Providing clear and thorough training on using any tools and tech that the role requires will speed up the adjustment process, getting your new employee confidently up and running in no time.

.Don’t forget the social side!

When a new person joins your company, obviously the key essentials in ‘orientation’ will include the legal bits and bobs such as contracts, HR documentation, and equipment or tech handover and finance info. However don’t forget that a happy employee is a good employee, with research proving that happy employees are 12% more productive than unhappy ones.

So to ensure that your new employee starts off as a happy one, ensure that they become oriented in the other important aspects of the company such as its values, culture and people. It is important for new employees to be involved in socializing within the company whilst they are receiving training. This will help them feel comfortable and secure within their new position and company and will help them understand more about the different roles within the business and the people that perform them.


What are the benefits?

It shortens the learning curve. Companies with an effective onboarding process that provide on the job training give new employees a safety net. Starting a new job can be terrifying and as an employee you may find that aspects of the company culture or workload are not quite as you expected. Let alone a new environment, workmates, location… It can really be quite daunting. By providing training for new employees you give them the chance to get to know the company and its workings better and with familiarity comes happiness. And of course, the more training you provide, the quicker the new employee gets up to speed and is confident in his or her new role.

Provides useful feedback

The more training a company does, the quicker and easier it becomes to see how efficient the training program is and thus further refine it. Getting an employee up to speed may take some time in training that the company may feel it doesn’t have enough of, but without feedback the employee can become disengaged and that’s a bad place to start a new working relationship!

Socially integrates new employees

Being the new person at work can be isolating and stressful. Companies must make a conscious effort to introduce new employees to other staff as soon as possible and encourage the working relationship between them where appropriate and relevant. The quicker a new employee feels comfortable with his or her peers, the quicker they will feel comfortable asking for help or offering it if that is the case. Employee engagement and productivity go hand in hand, 22% of employees are less engaged at work because of workplace conflicts.

On-the-job training and providing mentors can prove to be a successful and efficient way of ensuring employee engagement and happiness.

Finally

So your new employee is clued up on the tech, has met everyone in the office, filled out all the forms and feeling confident and happy to continue work with less supervision. Great stuff! One more thing though… everyone knows that problems and unusual situations can arise with no warning, it is key that you make sure that your new employee knows where to access support when they need it. If they have a mentor that is a great person to provide this level of support and trust for them, as they will hopefully have a long and positive working relationship with them. But also make sure that they have access to resources that they might need for specific tasks that haven’t cropped up yet.

Making sure that you follow a comprehensive and thorough onboarding process can ensure that your new employee integrates into the company quickly and happily.

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Nov
23

The Cloud - Demystified In Less Than Ten Minutes

Posted by Jamie Laridon in Opinion, Cloud

The Cloud

For years ‘the cloud’ has been talked about constantly in business technology circles. And by now you’ll find that most SMB owners are already aware of how cloud computing is transforming the way that companies do business and cuts IT costs. However it’s still a fairly complicated subject if you’re not technically minded and the potential business value of migrating to the cloud might not be that clear.

It might entertain you to know that according to research done by Wakefield research, 54% of SMB’s stated that they had never used cloud technology. And of that 54% it was found that about 95% of them were in fact already in the cloud and had been for years, they just didn’t realise it.

We are going to explain ‘the cloud’ for anyone who perhaps isn’t 100% certain of the details. The cloud is here to stay and the economic benefits make too much sense to ignore.

Put simply, the cloud acts as a storage space. If you imagine your online storage system as a cramped office with files spilling out over the filing cabinets, there is no budget to upgrade offices but it’s becoming chaotic. Then imagine that your building manager offers to rent you an empty filing cabinet in the basement.

The basement is shared with other tenants who have their own filing cabinets and spaces but only you have the key to yours. You move your files into the basement and suddenly your office is less cramped and running more efficiently. And you can pop to the basement to collect files whenever you need. This is a rough analogy of how the cloud works.

Large businesses have higher IT budgets, which allows them to own a massive internal network infrastructure, but SMB’s often don’t have the budget or support to do this. That’s why the cloud has allowed the playing field to be leveled between small, medium and big businesses. It’s an equalizer in many ways. It gives SMB’s the opportunity to do large-scale business at a lower cost.

The cloud is more or less a sexy (if you like that kind of thing) buzzword for the Internet. Or at least the next evolution of the Internet. Anyone who has ever used or hosted an email provider like Gmail has stored sensitive data in the cloud, even if they didn’t realize. Cloud-based email hosting was the first and most broadly adopted cloud service used for both personal and professional use.

Use services like Amazon, Netflix, even Facebook and Twitter? You’re part of the public cloud.

The cloud is big. It’s big and its made up of different elements. It has three deployment models, private, public and hybrid.

Private Clouds are often built by large companies with bigger resourses and deeper pockets than SMB’s. But what has been a game changer for SMB’s is the Public Cloud, public cloud deployments are 100% virtual. This means less hands-on management is required as the infrastructure (hardware, devices, network equipment etc) is all off-premises. And with this an SMB benefits from not having to pay for and manage the hardware, deal with software licensing or updating or pay for empolyees to manage it all.

Cloud migration companies generally offer one of 3 categorised cloud-computing services that are referred to as layers within the cloud. These 3 services are:

Simply put, the cloud hosts an application for any type of work process that an SMB will need.

What are the advantages of using the Cloud?

Reduction of costs: Since the cloud works on mass scale computing, onsite physical storage hardware and internal IT staffing are reduced.

Anytime and Anywhere Access: Since data access is no longer restricted to single employees or physical devices, users can share and collaborate in the cloud at any time and anywhere.

Better collaboration: The cloud is available on demand to computers and devices from any location at any point of time, this allows for better faster collaboration between employees, especially as today's workforce is increasingly dispersed.

Faster deployment: Cloud-based services can be deployed within just an hour or a few days rather than the weeks or months it often takes to strategically plan, build and implement an internal IT structure.

Environmental friendliness: The clouds energy efficiency is attractive to any company conscientious about the environment and wanting to be ‘green’. For example, having fewer machines to run is obviously more energy efficient.

Improved security: Many SMB’s cite security concerns as the main reason they are reluctant to move to the cloud, however, there are actually very few data breaches involving cloud providers. Data stored in the cloud may actually be safer than data stored on computers and company servers with an array of security vulnerabilities. Unlike a laptop, the cloud can’t be left behind on a train.

Business Continuity: Data storage and back up is one of the most frequently used cloud-based services amongst SMB’s. Many cloud service providers offer SMB’s unlimited storage capability, automated data sync and back up processes that reduce or eliminate downtime events

Still concerned?

SMB’s who are still uneasy about a move to the cloud can consider cloud monitoring through a local managed service provider (MSP). Cloud monitoring helps SMBs deploy to the cloud with confidence. Cloud monitoring gives the SMB owner around-the-clock end-to-end visibility into the performance of their cloud services and IT infrastructure. Monitoring services offer SMBs proactive monitoring, automated alerts, and full problem resolution support by way of a fully dedicated 24/7 networks operations center (NOC). Cloud monitoring is also carefully monitored with frequent audits to identify and address vulnerabilities.

The continuous analyzing and testing of your network, website and mobile applications can reduce downtime hugely. And cloud monitoring also tests your email server at regular intervals, which minimizes failure deliveries, and other issues that affect sending and receiving emails.

Concerns about security are still valid but small businesses today may actually be exposing themselves to more breach vulnerabilities by not being in the cloud. The notion that data must be on-site to truly be secure is as misguided as the belief that money is safer tucking beneath a mattress than in the bank.

To see how we can help you with cloud migration visit our website or get in touch for more details

https://www.virtuoso-uk.com/managed-it/it-outsourcing

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Tags: #Opinion, #Cloud
Sep
06

Virtuoso awarded place on the innovative Crown Commercial Technology Services 2 (TS2) framework agreement.

Posted by Nick in Opinion

London - September 6th, 2017 - Virtuoso, the IT services company that specialise in delivering simple and innovative IT solutions to complex problems, has been awarded a place on the innovative Technology Services 2 (TS2) framework agreement. Virtuoso has a wealth of experience providing IT services and solutions and coupled with a consistent record of success, is ideally placed to deliver tailored IT solutions to central and local government sectors, estimated to be worth between £1bn and £3bn. 

This award will see Virtuoso supplying services across the UK public sector bodies including government and the wider public sector, social housing organisations, voluntary and community sector bodies, education and the NHS. Being part of the TS2 framework broadens Virtuoso's reach and capability for their public sector customers leveraging expertise across server, desktop, storage and network environments.  Along with vendor relationships with many of the world’s leading software vendors, Virtuoso infrastructure management is implemented through an ITIL-based best practice framework.  

Markus McIver, CEO, said "We are delighted to have been awarded a place on CCS T2 framework.  This award further demonstrates our strategy and commitment to bringing agility and innovation to the UK public sector.  Success across Lots 1,2, and 3 will enable us to work in partnership with customers from strategy through to operational services."

The Technology Services 2 framework is the innovative solution for every public sector customer’s ICT service requirements, including services at all government security classification levels, and offers this through:

Lot 1: Technology Strategy and Service Design

For developing or enhancing ICT strategy and service design, this provides access to the specialists services offered by Virtuoso.

Lot 2: Transition and Transformation

For implementing ICT strategy or services, site relocation or transition from your current services agreement; this lot provides all of the transition and transformational activities required, including legacy service decommissioning.

Lot 3: Operational Services

This lot is for operation service needs in four distinct service groupings:

3a: End User Services
3b: Operational Management
3c: Technical Management
3d: Application and Data Management

About Virtuoso IT 

Virtuoso was founded with the belief that a small technology-focused business could succeed in a competitive landscape by truly engaging with customers, delivering business aligned solutions and building a business that would draw some of the best technical capability in the country without the constraints of a traditional sales-led organisation. In every customer engagement, our team engage with both technical and commercial stakeholders to rapidly drive value.

Virtuoso has a wealth of experience providing IT services and solutions, coupled with a consistent record of success, making Virtuoso ideally placed to deliver a full suite of products, solutions and services. 

Learn more at www.virtuoso-uk.com

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Sep
05

Virtual Reality in the Workplace

Posted by Nick in Opinion

We are huge fans of VR here at Virtuoso and are looking forward to seeing how Microsoft VR Development Kit will start being utilised within the workplace. The following is a post from Eric Vanderburg, who serves as the Vice President of Cybersecurity at TCDI and Vice Chairman of the board at TechMin. This originally appeared on the Dell Blog here

Virtuoso D2D Blog Image 3

For decades Virtual Reality (VR) has tantalized our minds. We have an acute fascination for it since virtual reality offers us experiences no other technology can match. The implications for gaming and entertainment are quite obvious and have consumed much of the recent conversation on the subject.  However, virtual reality goes far beyond gaming and media. VR is currently entering many homes but soon headsets like this one that appeared at CES 2017 will make its debut into workplaces, and already has in some instances. In fact, VR adoption in the workplace is expected to increase rapidly as the technology becomes more democratized. But what will this look like?

The End of the Conference Room

Workplaces can expand beyond physical boundaries to connect employees and customers with virtual reality. Employees may connect with each other in a virtual meeting space rather than over a conference call, eventually allowing for non-verbal communication interactive presentations or virtual collaboration from remote employees as if they were in the office together. This use case for VR is anticipated and highly valued. According to Dell’s Future Workforce study data, 67 percent of millennials believe it is important to use virtual reality in meetings and product development.

Virtual Workspaces

Virtual reality allows employees to take their workspace with them much like they carry their applications and user interface customizations or virtual desktops with them now.  A headset replaces the monitor and the surrounding workspace such as family photos, wall art, books and other items you would find in an office.  This virtual office can be accessed just like a virtual desktop.

Virtual Prototyping

With VR, prototypes can be experienced, rather than just viewed. Employees can step inside a machine or walk through a building plan before a single part has been ordered.  This helps companies create better products and avoid costly rework.

Virtual Training

VR can also be used for to create realistic virtual environments where skills can be put into practice. Training in VR allows people learning new tasks (students made me think of schools) to make mistakes without actually breaking something and the virtual environment can be reset quickly and easily so trainees can practice until skills are second nature. The immersive environment of VR allows for a deeper imprint on memory and caters to a different learning style that can better reinforce knowledge and improve recall.

VR and the Customer Experience

Virtual reality is also has tremendous opportunity for consumers to virtually try out goods before making a purchase. Currently, some real estate firms allow customers to virtual walk through a space.  Construction is similarly undergoing changes with VR. Imagine walking through an office or home while it is still in the design stages, checking out the view from your next vacation rental, sitting behind the wheel of that new car, or virtually trying on clothing from an online retailer. The sports industry uses virtual reality to replay events in previous games or train on certain maneuvers. This is some of what VR is offering the enterprise.

Roadmap to VR success

Dell’s workforce study showed that employees, especially millennials, expect to be working in a smart office in the near future and many do not consider their current office smart enough. Virtual reality in the enterprise is a way to attract the best talent and to make them more productive. VR also enables companies to establish better relationships with their customers. So how do companies prepare now to utilize this technology?

Businesses need to be able to create VR content for their employees and customers, so they must have the equipment and training to make their ideas a reality. Dell is one company that has stepped in to meet this challenge by providing the tools for VR content creation and an environment where innovation and collaboration can take place. In an interview with Liam Quinn, CTO at Dell, he explained how Dell has established a VR center for excellence where companies work with VR technologies, collaborate and innovate solutions. Dell also provides VR content creation tools with its Precision workstation series that is equipped with hardware capable of creating VR applications.

It is not too early to start thinking about how VR will fit into your enterprise. Connect with the VR community, exchange ideas, and equip your workforce with the tools to seize these opportunities.  Are you ready to take your company into VR?

 

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Aug
07

What, when, why, how, and everything you need to know about the new GDPR

Posted by Greg McCallum in Opinion

What? The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the new legislation from the European Union which replaces the 1995 Data Protection Directive (DPD).

The DPD consisted of a now-outdated set of laws designed to protect the personal data of UK citizens. The GDPR make data protection rules standard across the board (Europe).

When? The GDPR comes into effect on 25th May 2018, and even though the UK is leaving the EU, the GDPR will take effect before the two-year timeframe of Article 50 meaning businesses will still need to conform to new regulations in the meantime. CTO of Virtuoso, Greg McCallum says, It's essential that your IT systems meet the technical requirements of GDPR before the regulation comes into effect.

Proper data governance is only possible with a well-designed, well-managed infrastructure platform that is both agile and stable. We can help you bridge that gap, saving time and money, to ensure your company can become compliant as soon as possible.

Why? The reason for the new legislation comes from an urgent need to update current regulations in the digital age.

The EU wants to ensure that individuals have more control over how their personal data is being seen, used and stored. Many online companies only allow the use of their services once people have submitted personal information.

The DPD came into play before cloud technology and the internet meant that peoples data could be exploited in different ways.

The GDPR aims to tackle the privacy challenges in the new digital economy by improving the levels of trust amongst its data holders and givers. Also by making the data protection law identical across the single market, the EU aims to give businesses an easier, clearer legal environment in which to operate.

How? The GDPR applies to the ͂Controllers̓ and ͂Processors̓ of data. A controller states how and why the data is processed, and a processor does the actual processing of said data. The new changes will affect all companies who deal with EU data even if the companies themselves are based outside of the EU. Under the GDPR controllers must keep accurate records of consent from individuals in relation to data storage, the format for consent being given changes under the GDPR, individuals must give consent in an active way rather than the passive way under some models (pre-ticked boxes are an example of this). Individuals are free to withdraw their consent at any time.

Companies that currently use passive ways of obtaining consent must ensure their data collection method is updated before the 2018 inception date or else must stop collecting data.

Data controllers must allow for individuals to access their personal data and comply within one month of the request. It is up to the controller to ensure that people can securely review the information a controller holds about them and the processors and controllers must be able to clearly explain how and why their data is stored and processed. People will now also have the right to request their data is deleted if it is no longer necessary, this is now known as the right to be forgotten. This will affect the controllers whose responsibility it will be to inform other organisations to delete any links to copies of the data in question. If a person wants their data to be moved elsewhere the controller must conform to this request within one month. It is each companies responsibility to inform their data protection authority of any data breach that might cause a risk to peoples rights and freedoms within 3 days of the company being aware of the breach. Harsh penalties will be in place for those who fail do comply within the deadline. Data protection authorities can issue penalties of up to €20 million or 4% of your global annual turnover (whichever is greatest) for any company or organisation who fails to comply with the new regulations set out in the GDPR.

Concerns? One of the biggest changes of the GDPR compared to the DPD is that what can be defined as ͂personal data̓ now encompasses IP addresses, economic and cultural information, and even mental health information. Anything that previously counted as personal data under the DPD still stands under GDPR. Data audits must take place to meet GDPR requirements, this may cause issues for some companies as they will have to ensure that they are aware of and have access to a full and accurate list of data-storing assets. Ultimately, the sooner companies conform to the new legislation laid out in the GDPR, the better to avoid heavy penalties and leave themselves open to risk.

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Sep
08

Now you see it, there it stays!

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

Decreasing business costs and risks of costly data loss

We live in a 24/7 global economy that is more dependent than ever on technology. Even the technology of small and medium sized businesses (SMBs) houses sensitive digital data - employee and customer information, internal emails, documents and financial records, sales orders and transaction histories. Not to mention applications and programs critical to daily business function and services. 

Employees at SMBs require continuous access to the critical business data needed to meet the demands of the customers or clients they service. They even want this access while they’re at home or on the go running errands. 

To satisfy this demand, many companies and organisations now allow employees to BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) and “do business” using their personal laptops, tablets and mobile phones. The web, Wi-Fi networks and mobile devices with robust memory and battery life have made this constant access to a SMBs back office infrastructure a reality. Regrettably this flexibility and freedom is accompanied by an ominous risk of data loss.

Just a single data loss or breach can be costly to SMBs. Data losses and leaks come with lingering continuous costs that many SMBs cannot easily shake or overcome. Revenue is lost if employee productivity and customer accessibility/ service are stalled by data loss. The expenses associated with internal research and investigation, system repair and maintenance, and data security protection are another heavy price SMBs must pay. If cybercrime is involved, affected customers must be notified, the potential exists for litigation, and many customers will likely never return due to mistrust. 

While corporate-level data losses are well publicised, many SMBs mistakenly believe their data isn’t at risk. This mistake can prove to be a costly one. 

Why C-Suite Management  at SMBs Can No Longer  Ignore Data Loss

    • Following a significant data loss, it is estimated that SMBs can lose up to 25% in daily revenue by the end of the first week. 
    • According to the recent national UK survey, 93% of companies that have experienced data loss, and prolonged downtime for ten or more days have filed for bankruptcy within twelve months of the incident. 50% wasted no time and filed for bankruptcy immediately. 43% of companies with no data recovery and business continuity plan actually go out of business following a major data loss.  How quickly can your business be restored if critical data is lost? When was the last time backup processes were tested to ensure all data is recoverable and business operations are quickly restored?
    • A survey conducted by Symantec SMB revealed that fewer than half of SMBs surveyed backup their data each week. Only 23% of those surveyed said they backup data every day and have a business continuity plan in place. 
    • The percentage of cybercriminal attacks targeting businesses with fewer than 250 employees doubled in 2012. The vulnerabilities of naive small business owners have been noted, and hackers have now placed the proverbial bull’s-eye on these perceived weak links. If sensitive customer data is leaked, SMBs may face overwhelming financial liabilities, which could include reimbursing affected customers and legal fees. 
    • BYOD isn’t a trend or passing fad. It is here to stay and the fact of the matter is businesses no longer own the devices used by employees. This is unprecedented. It’s not as if the employees of yesterday could haul home their file cabinets and desk. This obviously comes with a number of data security risks. The number of networks, applications, and end points where data can be accessed has multiplied with BYOD. Who manages these devices? Who secures these devices? Do SMBs have the right to back up data on machines they do not own? If an employee loses a laptop, or goes AWOL on the company, what data do they have and does anyone else in the company have access to it?
       
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Sep
08

The Value of a Helping Hand

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

Reducing The Costs and Complexity of IT With a Managed Services Provider

The Technology Pains of Small Business

Small business owners are faced with quite the dilemma these days. While a reliable and secure network is a critical component to success, business owners are also being forced to scale back on costs and overhead as a means of basic survival in today’s economy. 

Having a fully staffed IT department simply isn’t a viable option for a majority of small business owners. Many small businesses either have one full-time employee devoted to IT services or none at all. Both scenarios are recipes for disaster in an increasingly complex high-tech society.

One IT person, even a very small team, will likely be overworked and burdened by too many responsibilities. This can make a company’s business infrastructure increasingly vulnerable to breakdown, not from technology, but from human error.  A recent study conducted by Gartner projected that through 2015, people - not technology, will be responsible for up to 80% of technology failure. This number coincides with findings reported in the IT Process Institute’s Visible Ops Handbook stating that 80% of unexpected outages are due to poorly planned changes implemented by administrators and developers.

The forecast is even stormier for businesses with absolutely no IT support on payroll. These business owners have subscribed to the break/fix model of technology management. While this model can sometimes be out of necessity due to budget restraints, it can also stem from a state of ignorance or denial that their business is truly susceptible to technology failure. The overall health and profitability of their business is directly affected by the performance, reliability and security of its technology systems.  

 

With the break/fix model, there is absolutely no proactive monitoring or management of their network. The only emergency plan for data loss or downtime is to call upon an IT specialist in an emergency 9-9-9 situation. 

On average, these IT consultants charge £100 an hour. This doesn’t even factor in trip fees, surcharges, and standard repair costs in the range of £500 to £1000, or the costs of hardware and software upgrades. This method also results in more downtime, lost productivity, lost revenue, and a loss in overall customer satisfaction. Major network repairs require a minimum of 8-24 hours on average and most on-call IT consultants cannot get on site for up to 24-48 hours.  One has to also wonder if these consultants truly have the business owners’ best interest in mind? After all, they make their money when technology breaks down. Are they truly motivated to keep a client’s network running optimally and efficiently?

The Concept of Managed Services

Managed Services Providers - or MSPs - are often recommended as a cost-effective IT solution for small businesses. For a minimal monthly fee, MSPs provide a reasonably priced solution to the complex technology pains of small businesses. Sometimes an MSP will enter the picture to support an overworked IT support person or staff. They can also assume complete responsibility of all IT and network operations if need be. 

MSPs can decrease the overall IT support costs by as much as 30% to 50%. Rather than stressing about technology, business owners can instead get back to focusing on growing their business. All while enjoying the benefit of a team of highly-trained IT experts boosting their network’s reliability and performance.  

Freed Up Resources and a Renewed Emphasis on Core Business

Most pricey repairs and recovery costs are the result of a lack of consistent monitoring and maintenance. While these activities are absolutely critical to day-to-day business operations, they are also repetitive, monotonous and “a time kill” for any IT support on payroll. Both business owners and internal IT staff would much rather focus on revenue enhancing tasks like product development or the creation of cutting-edge applications/services. This is one reason routine monitoring and maintenance tasks are often neglected by an internal IT person or team, which always proves to be detrimental much later. 

Often misportrayed as a “threat” to an internal IT person or staff, MSPs can instead alleviate internal staff of mundane network operations maintenance, repetitious monitoring of server and storage infrastructure, and day-to-day operations and service desk duties.

A True Partner Sharing Risks And Responsibilities

Earlier we alluded to a mistrust of IT consultants who profit from your technological misery. In comparison, the goal of an MSP is to deliver on contracted services, measure, report, analyze and optimize IT service operations, and truly become an irreplaceable catalyst for business growth. MSPs not only assume leadership roles, they mitigate risks, enhance efficiency and change the culture by introducing internal IT operations to new technologies and processes.

Access to Expertise, Best Practices and World - Class Tools and Technologies

MSPs has worked with a variety of businesses and organizations. Since each client presents a completely unique set of business and technology needs, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” method to what they do. That said, they’ve likely seen it all, and the benefit of an experienced MSP undoubtedly adds value to your business. MSPs can keep your business relevant and on track with continually evolving technology, support, and productivity demands. Let’s face it – no small or medium-sized business can afford to fall behind with technology trends in today’s business world.

The Benefit of a Full-Time Fully Staffed IT Department at a Fraction of the Cost - Most small business owners live and die by proactive management. They just haven’t had the budget, resources or access to on-demand expertise to be proactive with information technology management. An MSP gives business owners and overwhelmed internal IT staff affordable computer and server support, remote monitoring of critical network components like servers and firewalls, data backup and disaster recovery, network security, custom software solutions, and technology evaluation and planning. Freeing them from expensive computer problems, security threats like spyware and spam, and the repercussions of prolonged downtime. All without being “nickel-and-dimed” by on-call IT firms.

 

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Jul
25

Weathering the Storm: Zero In On Downtime For Long-Term Business Continuity and Customer Satisfaction

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

Small business has changed dramatically within the last decade. No change has been more profound than our dependency on information technology (IT) systems to support critical day-to-day business functions.

In today’s increasingly competitive high-tech environment, it is critical that all business operations run smoothly and efficiently. Business momentum, employee productivity and customer service all depend on an IT infrastructure that must be both accessible and secure at all times. Constant network availability has become essential to most small and midsize businesses (SMEs) today.

This reliance on IT systems has also created a stronger link between data centre accessibility and total cost of ownership (TCO). Even minimal amounts of unplanned downtime today will result in lost revenue, productivity and negatively impact overall brand reputation.

Preventing or rebounding from downtime was once deemed the IT team’s problem, however, this unprecedented modern- day dependence on technology has made the frequency and costs of downtime more of a business problem. Prolonged or recurring downtime can cripple small businesses and requires the attention and understanding of C-suite management in order to be properly addressed.

Unfortunately, many executives at SMEs are still not as tuned into daily network operations as they need to be. For this reason, they lack a true awareness of the frequency of downtime. This lack of insight and visibility is regrettably putting far too many SME sat an increased risk for downtime and the costs associated with it.

Bridging the Gap Between C-Suite Executives and In-House IT Teams

While most C-level executives are well aware that network operations play a pivotal role in productivity, service and profitability, they don’t have the same awareness as IT personnel when it comes to the frequency of downtime and what makes their data centre infrastructure vulnerable to it. Worse yet, many SMEs don’t even have in-house IT staff –meaning nobody in the company or organisation has any insight into the problem.

At the same time, even when internal IT personnel is on deck, many support technicians fail to recognise the financial implications of downtime when it comes to lost revenue, lost productivity and lost customers.

It is imperative that all levels at a SME have insight into the probability and implications of downtime. This is the only way to maximise uptime and the availability of essential IT applications without over inflating the total cost of ownership of data centre infrastructure.

Calculate the True Cost of Downtime

According to the Aberdeen Group, a business intelligence research firm, downtime is costing companies 65% more per hour these days than just two years ago. 2012 data calculated downtime costs at the £165,000 mark compared to the £100,000 of 2010.

According to Symantec’s 2011 SME Disaster Preparedness Survey, small businesses lose an average of £3,000 each day from downed systems and networks. Medium sized businesses bleed even more money, losing an average of £23,000 each day.

C-Suite management at SMEs must consider both the direct and indirect costs of downtime. Direct costs are:

  • Wasted wages paid to idle employees
  • Sales lost during the outages
  • The expensive emergency service/ repair bill issued by the on-call IT technician brought in to get your business back up and running.

Indirect costs, such as lost customers who have moved on after one too many “Our server is down” messages, are more difficult to quantify but more costly – equating to roughly 62% of all network downtime costs. A specific dollar amount cannot be placed on lost productivity, the long-term consequences of damaged reputation and wasted opportunities that accompany each downtime event.

This is why Chief Information Officers (CIOs) and IT support alike don’t have the visibility or insight to understand what the average downtime event truly costs them. The residual effects of a network outage are typically much more costly than costs related to identifying the root cause of the failure and repairing or replacing any physical hardware.

But so many C-level executives remain mindful of only what downtime costs them in terms of repair or replacement costs. They also tend to gloss over the fact that their day-to-day business processes are more susceptible to outages and inaccessible data than they think.

Zero In On Infrastructure Vulnerability to Data Centre Downtime  

Leading Causes of Downtime

  • Power Outages – 48%
  • Accidental Data Deletion – 31%
  • Employee Created – 29%
  • Virus/Malware – 25%
  • Application Failure – 20%
  • Power Related Outages

Vulnerabilities to a data centre’s power still rank as one of the leading causes of unplanned network outages and can often be catastrophic. Particularly costly are UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supply) related failures (this includes batteries) and generator failures.

To minimise the impact that power outages have on data centre operations, and to prevent a potentially catastrophic unavailability of the data centre, a dependable backup system is needed. This ensures the backup of critical data and applications is always in  place in the event of equipment failure.
The integration of comprehensive infrastructure monitoring and management tools also minimises the costs associated with identifying and repairing power system failures.

Accidental Data Deletion and Employee Created Downtime

Simple human error is a prevalent cause of downtime. Whether months of data is unintentionally lost in a backup error, a power cord is unplugged, a busy IT technician overlooks routine maintenance and alert monitoring, or there is an error in judgment during an emergency, to err is human and apparently quite frequent as well.

A study by the Gartner Group, an IT research and advisory firm, projected that through 2015, 80% of downtime will be due to people and process issues.

In August of 2010, foursquare - a widely used mobile check-in app – had a highly publicised outage of eleven hours, followed by another shorter service disruption the next day. All three million users of the app were affected and it was a chain of human mistakes that led to both outages. IT techs noticed that a server was storing too much data, but as the support team tried to resolve the issue, all the servers went down.

Regardless of proper training, or the quality of IT technician hires, human mistakes  will  likely  always  lead  to instances of a downed data centre or network, especially considering  the expected learning curve of adapting to new technologies.

Ensuring proper communication amongst team members and adequate training at all levels is critical. Of course, it goes without saying that having a comprehensive backup strategy is also a necessity to counter act downtime and ensure business continuity regardless of who is having a bad day. 

Virus/Malware/Hacks

SMEs are often guilty of thinking they are immune to hackers, viruses and malware. According to a National Cyber Alliance and Symantec survey, 77% of SMEs don’t believe they’re at risk for cybercrime while 83% admit to having no formal measures in place to counter these threats. This isn’t merely a threat to your data; it puts your bank account and the sensitive data of your customers at risk.

Passwords should be regularly changed every few months. They should be strong. This means no more passwords like "password" or "1234567". Employees must be educated on security and precautionary measures. And there is no excuse for not having data backed up in this era of cloud computing and virtualisation - where the entire contents pf physical server - including the operating system, applications, patches and all data - can easily and cost-effectively be grouped into one software bundle or virtual server.

Application Failure

Many applications or their components contribute to recurring downtime. While virtualisation offers many multi-faceted advantages it has also further exacerbated overlapping applications in the infrastructure. One small application component failure is now likely to impact many applications.

It is critical that all components are  profiled and there is a general understanding as to what each application does – the hardware resources used by the application and the software it integrates with. Identifying an owner will allow for better monitoring and recognition of failure points.

Despite the risks of downtime, many SMEs still don’t feel they’re at any real risk. There is an overall sentiment of “It won’t happen to me.” It can be assumed that many hear the word “disaster” and mistakenly assess the immediate risk of natural disasters, such as hurricanes or earthquakes, impacting their day-to-day business. While those events, along with floods and fires, definitely contribute to a large number of unplanned prolonged outages, the truth is there is a new breed of modern era “disaster” culprits that can very literally happen on any given day. Downed networks and data centres from power outages, human error, viruses and malware, and application failure are much more probable and could be just as fatal to SMEs.

C-suite executives at SMEs must honestly assess their risk, quantify downtime costs,and improve disaster recovery efforts. In terms of ROI (Return on Investment) of business technology,  it’s important to remember that conventional disaster recovery can be expensive since it requires more time and resources. Stored data on backup tapes can also be more prone to error. Additionally, off-site backup tapes will always lead to prolonged downtime since recovery hinges on the retrieval and delivery of these tapes to the data centre.

Many smaller and medium sized businesses are turning to new technology trends like virtualisation and cloud computing as a cost effective means to better prepare for outages and the loss of critical business information. According to Symantec’s 2012 Disaster Preparedness Survey,  26%  of  SME  executives cited disaster preparedness as a moderate to large influencer on their choice to move to a virtualised server infrastructure, 30% said minimising downtime influenced their decision to move to public clouds, and 32% said a quicker recovery time affected their decision to move a private cloud.  SMEs can benefit from a little help when it comes  to  properly  implementing and leveraging this new technology to strengthen their disaster recovery efforts. Access to a 24/7 NOC (Network Operations Centre) team offering remote monitoring and management solutions, along with a 24/7 help desk, can help SMEs improve backup, monitoring and troubleshooting processes for maximum uptime and business continuity.

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Jul
17

The Benefit of Insight - Mitigating Costly New Technology Risks For Continued Stability and Profitability

Contrary to what you may read, IT costs don’t necessarily have to skyrocket as your business grows. Small and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) just have to be more cognisant of where their technology investments are going and what they’re truly getting as return on their investment.

As businesses rely more than ever on technology for day-to-day functions, managers realise that they simply cannot afford the lost productivity, lost revenue and the negative impact on business reputation that comes with a downed system or network.

At the same time, many businesses can’t justify the costs of employing any  full or part-time IT support given today’s economy. In fact, many small-to-medium sized businesses choose to pay for on-site support on an as- needed basis as opposed to having one or several dedicated IT employees on payroll.With the recent buzz about the potential benefits and cost savings of virtualisation software and cloud computing, many SME executive teams are rethinking how their technology investments are currently allocated.

Two things you’ll find many technology dependent peers focusing on today are a greater return on investment (ROI) and a lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

 

Executive Perspectives to Tech ROI and TCO

ROI is calculated by dividing the cost reduction and avoidance realised over a period of time by the total amount invested over that same time span.

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is most commonly related with four categories in the business/tech world.

▪ Downtime

Smart  executives ask themselves “What does it cost my business when my employees, extended teams and/or our customers can’t get to the data they need.” Downtime includes ALL costs linked to server downtime – both planned and unplanned – along with mostly hidden soft costs that aren’t necessarily easy to quantify such as lost employee productivity and business as a result of downtime.

▪ Hardware and Software

The price of the server, hardware and software purchases, contracted tech support and maintenance, training services, upgrades, and backup and virus protection software.

▪ IT Operations

Network and storage infrastructure, server deployment and configuration, data centre power and cooling, and other system-related administrative tasks.

▪ Business Administration

All costs related to business processes like labor costs, purchase approvals, vendor contract negotiation and procurement process tracking.

 

Re-evaluate Your “Status Quo” Approach to IT

As referenced earlier, small-to-medium size companies can be severely understaffed when it comes to IT support. With so many technology changes emerging in recent years, this puts your businesses at an increased risk for network failure, data loss and security threats – all of which can be enough to put an ill-prepared company out of business.

The first instinct of  many  CFOs and/ or CIOs is to hire more in-house IT staff to address  technology  challenges. This may actually be the right move in some instances but let’s consider a few potential, and common, issues with this. First, beyond budget restraints, it has become increasingly frustrating for many businesses to successfully manage their internal IT operations on their own. Turnover is generally high because many IT professionals view smaller companies as a stepping stone or training ground prior to moving on to larger employers. The result is a cycle of recruiting, training, and ultimately replacing IT technicians that becomes a royal hassle for many businesses.

Additionally, limited IT resources often lead to an increase in human errors made by techs juggling too many responsibilities. A multitude of recent industry studies have estimated that up to 40% of today’s outages stem from human error made by in-house IT staff. And, your internal staff will spend anywhere from 25 to 50% of their time identifying and addressing these issues.

The industry term for this is a “break/fix mentality” – this is essentially pulling an alarm and having an on-call IT technician rush in to put out a fire. This approach comes with substantial direct costs to your business or organisation in the form of high hourly rates, trip fees, surcharges, and hardware/software service or replacement fees. Losses from downtime must also be considered since it can take 24-48 hours for many IT consultants to even get on-site to address an issue, and resolving these issues aren’t always a same day fix.

Both scenarios hardly seem like a way to improve ROI and decrease TCO.

 

Reduce TCO with Virtualisation and a “NEW” Managed Services Approach

Your peers are finding new technology innovations like virtualisation and the cloud as a way to save money. Virtualisation and cloud computing are a cost-effective means to move the contents of entire servers into one offsite virtual server or software bundle – this includes all applications, data, operating systems and patches. The need for fewer physical servers reduces hardware and energy costs, data size requirements and makes overall IT management and backup/recovery easier.

According to series of studies compiled by VMWare (a US-based cloud and virtualisation software and services company), businesses that have implemented virtualisation have reduced total cost of ownership in IT operations by up to 67%.

While there has been much attention called to the positives of these new innovations, SMEs owners and managers have little to no visibility to the new set of risks and the incremental costs that accompany this new technology.

This new technology, while highly productive, also has the  potential  to be disruptive given the increased risk for security breaches in the cloud and the learning curve of team members adapting to new technology and software applications. The life of a system administrator also becomes more complex given the demands of always-on employees/customers and the greater need to backup data and recover immediately in the event of an unplanned outage.

The reality is many of the headaches that come with new technology aren’t fully realised until months, if not years, into their implementation – and this may be too late.

Management today needs more visibility to the real risks at hand, along with new solutions and methodologies. Partnering with a managed services provider (MSP) is one new approach being used by many of your peers today. Experienced MSPs have access to newer tools that reduce costs by automating many routine in- house labor intensive processes. Break- fix is labor intensive, and labor is one of the most expensive operating costs within your IT infrastructure. These innovative tools generate real productivity increases and mitigate the risk of network failure, downtime or data loss from human error.

MSPs deliver a trusted foundation for your team and your customers – some of the services and tasks offered include:

▪Remote Desktop Management and Support

▪Predictable Management of Critical Patches and Software Updates

▪Fractional Resource Availability of Best- In-Class Expertise – scaled to your needs

▪Implementing and Testing Backup and Disaster Recovery Processes

▪Performance of Inventory and Audits of Computer/Network/Software

▪Enforcement of Network/Security Policy

▪Mobile Data Management and Monitoring

▪Monitoring of Network/Operating System and Alerts

▪Updating Anti-Virus Software and Detecting Spyware

 

Examples of MSP - generated savings cited by Wipro Limited, an India-based IT consulting company:

▪ Alert Monitoring - MSP automation of this task has led to an 80% reduction of in-house monitoring that delivers  visibility to risks that were previously unidentifiable.

▪ Service Tasks/Help Desk Requests or Ticketing – MSP automation  of  these  tasks  have led to a 30% reduction of in-house support ticket-related efforts – saving countless hours of paying for employees  and  team members to stand idle

▪ Reporting – MSP service-level management tools and dynamic dashboards have led to complete automation of reporting and business communication efforts. Network trust increased and fear of unknown risks reduced so management can sleep at night?

 

Erase any misconception that MSPs are nothing more than “outsourced” tech help priced to displace your in- house IT technician or team. The new MSP has defined effective processes; methodologies and technology partnerships to offer valuable preventive services that proactively identify and eliminate threats before a bigger problem arises.

Whether an MSP assumes full responsibility for IT operations or acts as an ally to an in-house IT technician or team, the toolsets and education they provide to SMEs are invaluable. An MSP’s expertise and availability is what sets them apart from the “fireman-like” break-fix provider.

By enlisting an MSP, management teams are making a technology investment in proactive risk management rather than any one individual’s technical skills.

MSPs put considerable effort into understanding the operational and business needs of SMEs to develop and deliver a set of specific services that align technology with the SMEs business objectives. This is the reason you hear managed services often referred to as “partners.”

In an increasingly competitive environment where technology evolves at a rapid pace, businesses must fully leverage innovation to  better  meet the needs of their employees and the expectations of their customers. Much of this hinges on an organisation’s ability to increase system reliability for their business continuity, team productivity and customer satisfaction.

This can be achieved with the expertise of a trusted MSP. A present- day MSP offers quantifiable economic value, greater ROI and decreased TCO by streamlining costs, eliminating unnecessary lost productivity and revenue, and avoidable on-site IT consultant fees and hardware/software repairs or replacement.

 

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Jun
02

The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Mobility and BYOD

There are a lot of advantages to mobility in today’s workforce, but the Bring-Your- Own-Device (BYOD) movement has also brought its share of headaches as well.

We live in a society where everyone must have the newest technology. We are inundated with ads reminding us that the smartphone or tablet we just bought a year ago is laughably outdated and inferior to the upgrade that just hit the market.

People who have just bought the latest technology don’t want to have to set it aside to use a separate company-issued device. As a result, businesses are beginning to grant these employee-owned devices access to their file and email servers, databases, and applications.

While this brings certain competitive advantages to employers, it naturally carries many risks, too.

Let’s begin with the pros of BYOD…

The Advantages of BYOD

Greater Flexibility and Productivity

Personal devices allow workers more flexibility, which in turn can increase productivity. Today’s employee isn’t restricted to their office workstation or cubicle. They can carry out job responsibilities from home, a coffee shop, their child’s dance recital, or while traveling.

Reduced Costs

Purchasing even the most basic Blackberry for an employee can cost a company $900+ per worker. Costs like that can be completely eliminated by adopting a BYOD policy where employees are required to use their own device.

Happier Employees/Attractiveness to Job Seekers

Recent studies have found that 44% of job seekers are attracted more to employers who are open to BYOD and occasional remote work. Beyond this hiring advantage over competition, it has been found that employees as a whole are generally happier using the devices they own and prefer for work purposes.

Better Customer Service

This goes hand and hand with more flexibility and productivity. Mobility allows employees to occasionally resolve or escalate urgent client issues outside of normal working hours, and clients remember that kind of response time.

And now the cons of BYOD…

Disadvantages of BYOD

Compromised Data Security

Unfortunately, letting employees use their own smartphones, tablets, and laptops increases the likelihood of sensitive company or customer/client data being compromised. It is important for companies to establish a comprehensive mobile device security policy and never make any exceptions to it whatsoever. Really. No exceptions. Ever.

Employee Privacy

Many employees may oppose using their own devices for work, especially if it’s a company requirement that they aren’t reimbursed for. You have to remember that these are the same devices employees use to log into their Facebook and Twitter accounts or do their online banking. In this age of constant paranoia over big brother watching our every move, employees may be concerned that their employer will spy on them or access their personal passwords and information.

Handling Employee Turnover

Companies must consider how they will address the retrieval of company data and information from an employee’s device if the employee either quits or is fired. Some companies may require that employees only save or edit company files on their servers or use cloud-based sharing software like Dropbox to share and edit docs.

The Importance of a Mobile Device Management Tool

Obviously, businesses must keep track of all of the devices that access their server, applications, and data. Mobile Device Management helps enterprises centralise what is an otherwise chaotic hodgepodge of devices and operating systems. This ensures that all devices are configured, deployed, and properly monitored and managed. This is a smart way for businesses to embrace BYOD while securing data and applications across multiple devices.

 

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May
27

The Value Of A Helping Hand - Reducing The Costs and Complexity of IT With a Managed Services Provider

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

The Technology Pains of Small Business

Small business owners are faced with quite the dilemma these days. While a reliable and secure network is a critical component to success, business owners are also being forced to scale back on costs and overhead as a means of basic survival in today’s economy.

Having a fully staffed IT department simply isn’t a viable option for a majority of small business owners. Many small businesses either have one full-time employee devoted to IT services or none at all. Both scenarios are recipes for disaster in an increasingly complex high-tech society.

One IT person, even a very small team, will likely be overworked and burdened by too many responsibilities. This can make a company’s business infrastructure increasingly vulnerable to breakdown, not from technology, but from human error.

A recent study conducted by Gartner projected that through 2015, people - not technology, will be responsible for up to 80% of technology failure. This number coincides with findings reported in the IT Process Institute’s Visible Ops Handbook stating that 80% of unexpected outages are due to poorly planned changes implemented by administrators and developers.

The forecast is even stormier for businesses with absolutely no IT support on payroll. These business owners have subscribed to the break/fix model of technology management. While this model can sometimes be out of necessity due to budget restraints, it can also stem from a state of ignorance or denial that their business is truly susceptible to technology failure. The overall health and profitability of their business is directly affected by the performance, reliability and security of its technology systems.

 

With the break/fix model, there is absolutely no proactive monitoring or management of their network. The only emergency plan for data loss or downtime is to call upon an IT specialist in an emergency 9-1-1 situation.

On average, these IT consultants charge $100 an hour. This doesn’t even factor in trip fees, surcharges, and standard repair costs in the range of $500 to $1000, or the costs of hardware and software upgrades. This method also results in more downtime, lost productivity, lost revenue, and a loss in overall customer satisfaction. Major network repairs require a minimum of 8-24 hours on average and most on-call IT consultants cannot get on site for up to 24-48 hours.

One has to also wonder if these consultants truly have the business owners’ best interest in mind? After all, they make their money when technology breaks down. Are they truly motivated to keep a client’s network  running optimally and efficiently?

 

The Concept of Managed Services

Managed Services Providers - or MSPs - are often recommended as a cost-effective IT solution for small businesses. For a minimal monthly fee, MSPs provide a reasonably priced solution to the complex technology pains of small businesses. Sometimes an MSP will enter the picture to support an overworked IT support person or staff. They can also assume complete responsibility of all IT and network operations if need be.

MSPs can decrease the overall IT support costs by as much as 30% to 50%. Rather than stressing about technology, business owners can instead get back to focusing on growing their business. All while enjoying the benefit of a team of highly-trained IT experts boosting their network’s reliability and performance.

 

The Benefits of a Managed Services Provider

 

▪ Freed Up Resources and a Renewed Emphasis on Core Business

Most pricey repairs and recovery costs are the result of a lack of consistent monitoring and maintenance. While these activities are absolutely critical to day-to-day business operations, they are also repetitive, monotonous and “a time kill” for any IT support on payroll. Both business owners and internal IT staff would much rather focus on revenue enhancing tasks like product development or the creation of cutting-edge applications/services. This is one reason routine monitoring and maintenance tasks are often neglected by an internal IT person or team, which always proves to be detrimental much later.

 Often misportrayed as a “threat” to an internal IT person or staff, MSPs can instead alleviate internal staff of mundane network operations maintenance, repetitious monitoring of server and storage infrastructure, and day-to-day operations and help desk duties.

▪ A True Partner Sharing Risks And Responsibilities

Earlier we alluded to a mistrust of IT consultants who profit from your technological misery. In comparison, the goal of an MSP is to deliver on contracted services, measure, report, analyze and optimise IT service operations, and truly become an irreplaceable catalyst for business growth. MSPs not only assume leadership roles, they mitigate risks, enhance efficiency and change the culture by introducing internal IT operations to new technologies and processes.

▪ Access to Expertise, Best Practices and World

Class Tools and Technologies - MSPs has worked with a variety of businesses and organisations. Since each client presents a completely unique set of business and technology needs, there isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” method to what they do. That said, they’ve likely seen it all, and the benefit of an experienced MSP undoubtedly adds value to your business. MSPs can keep your business relevant and on track with continually evolving technology, support, and productivity demands. Let’s face it – no small or medium-sized business can afford to fall behind with technology trends in today’s business world.

▪ The Benefit of a Full

Time Fully Staffed IT Department at a Fraction of the Cost - Most small business owners live and die by proactive management. They just haven’t had the budget, resources or access to on-demand expertise to be proactive with information technology management. An MSP gives business owners and overwhelmed internal IT staff affordable computer and server support, remote monitoring of critical network components like servers and firewalls, data backup and disaster recovery, network security, custom software solutions, and technology evaluation and planning. Freeing them from expensive computer problems, security threats like spyware and spam, and the repercussions of prolonged downtime. All without being “nickel-and-dimed” by on-call IT firms.

 

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May
12

Outsourcing Isn’t A Dirty Word: Meet Your It Team’s New Best Friend

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

Small-to-medium-sized businesses (SMBs) generally don’t have the resources to fully support all IT infrastructure needs.   Even if your business has one or several in-house IT technicians on payroll, they’re often so bogged down by routine daily tasks that their talent is wasted. The very core of your business infrastructure is jeopardised if they’re overworked and vulnerable to error. This employee isn’t adding nearly as much value to your business as they should be. It’s not a good place for them or you.  

According to the research group Gartner, over 65% of IT budgets go towards tasks that do nothing more than keep the lights on. This means SMBs investing in their technology aren’t necessarily improving operations and efficiency or enhancing their security. They’re just keeping the wheels turning.   The concept of “managed services” has evolved through the last decade.

Today, managed service providers (MSPs) are being used by small businesses to cost-effectively manage, service and support their IT processes. MSPs are often called in as an alternative to adding additional in-house staff. Unfortunately, this also means MSPs are typically seen as a threat to the job security of any IT employee that fears they’re about to be replaced by “outsourced” help.

In this blog we will explain how a hybrid approach, utilising managed services, cloud services, and internal IT support can truly be the best of all worlds.  They simultaneously help SMBs achieve a greater return-on-investment (ROI) on their IT costs while allowing existing in-house IT resources to be channeled into more valuable development roles.

A Happier, Less Overwhelmed In-House IT Staff

Many of those never-ending mundane tasks performed by in-house IT support on a daily basis can be automated.   While this could easily be interpreted as suggesting on-site staff aren’t necessary, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Your current IT support can leverage all of the benefits of MSP services such as:

  • •Proactive management 
  • •Remote monitoring 
  • •End-user help desk
  • •24/7 network operations centre
  • •Disaster recovery/business continuity solutions
  • •Security audits/updates 

These services free your in-house IT support from much of the routine daily maintenance and support taking up most of their workday. This enables them to expand their role and work on more meaningful projects. They’re also happier on the job since they’re no longer perpetually overwhelmed or feeling as if they’re wearing too many hats. 

In this case, MSPs remove the burden of routine tasks from internal IT support,  allowing them to make better use of their time. With access to the MSP ticketing and monitoring system, and support from the 24/7 Network Operations Centre (NOC), in-house IT have help identifying and addressing system issues before they become business disrupting problems. 

Additionally, daily interruptions like constantly having to run to Susie’s computer to figure out why her system is running slow can instead be handled by the Service Desk.

Guided Focus, Direction and Prioritisation

Working with a MSP gives existing in-house IT support some much needed focus and direction. MSPs commonly offer a complimentary consultation and network assessment that evaluates the overall performance and health of your IT infrastructure. From there, the MSP will recommend the products or services most beneficial to current IT needs. 

This evaluation helps internal IT determine what system oversight and future planning they should be doing. A queue can be created where projects are evaluated and ranked by what’s most critical. Any regular system maintenance tasks can be performed by the MSP while in-house IT can focus on processes that will drive down costs or potentially increase revenue.

Fewer Instances of Failure and Human Error 

A high percentage of costly security breaches are the result of human error.  

This is often because IT employees are stretched too thin and overlook vital security measures, such as applying tested security patches or updating anti-virus software programs. Working with a MSP will eliminate much of the work overload that often leads to system or security vulnerabilities. Systems can be backed up in the cloud for an immediate full system restore if needed. Internal 

IT support will no longer bear sole responsibility for the constant availability and security of stored data.  Many of the issues that become costly business disruptions for SMBs, such as downtime-inducing hardware, software and application failures are completely preventable if they’re detected and addressed early enough. 

It’s a reality that your systems run 24/7, but you likely don’t have the resources right now for a full 24/7 IT operation.  Existing in-house IT support will find their workload to be much more manageable with the help of MSP services like the Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) tool and the 24/7 NOC. Systems are monitored around-the-clock through a comprehensive interface that can even be viewed on a mobile device. Alerts will notify the in-house IT staff of any potentially threatening issues on the horizon. 

Summary

Many SMBs have some incredibly gifted and skilled IT employees on staff that are burdened with way too any responsibilities and tend to get stuck in a routine each day. These employees would be solid contributors to your business if they weren’t running around extinguishing tech fires and handling monotonous tasks that are below their skill-level.  

A good MSP acts as an extension of the business they’re servicing. SMBs and MSPs will work very closely together but caution must be taken, as any internal IT staff will likely consider a MSPs presence to be intrusive and a threat to their job security.  SMBs must convince their internal staff that embracing the cloud and leveraging the service desk and RMM tools of a MSP will only make their jobs more manageable and less stressful.

Freeing them from manual tasks will allow them to work on projects that matter-developing applications, concepts, and strategies that will benefit the company or organization’s bottom line rather than spending the day tending to the intern’s computer after she clicked a malicious link in a phishing email. Your existing on-site IT support can do much more for your business as you cut costs by exploiting the industry’s best practices, latest tools, and newest technology.

 

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Tags: #Opinion
Apr
27

Reactive vs Proactive IT Managed Services

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion

The IT support industry is maturing and we find ourselves explaining the differences between a traditional break/fix support model and a true proactive managed service provider (MSP) on a daily basis.  This article is an attempt to explain the key concepts and differences between these models.

Outsourcing the support of business IT systems is not a new concept, in fact we find that more than half of the SME’s we talk to in London are already outsourcing. The benefits of outsourcing IT (or any other business function for that matter) are pretty clear and well understood. Cost optimization, access to a broader range of skills and expertise as well as enabling the customer to focus on their core business rather than IT.


Traditional IT support organisations typically differentiate themselves on things like technical accreditation and partner status with key vendors, the number of technical staff they employ and the ability to build quality relationships with customers that help drive innovation into their businesses. Whilst these are all good attributes to look for in a potential IT partner we find that the typical model when dealing with IT support organisations is the ambulance at the bottom of the hill scenario.

Businesses understand that IT is important and for the majority, have experienced a situation when an IT issue has had a significant impact on the business being able to operate. However we often find that the relationship between the business and the IT supplier is still reactive. What do we mean by reactive? Ask yourself this question – if there is an issue in my environment will my IT supplier already know or will one of my users have to call the service desk to let them know?

Under a reactive or Break/fix agreement, customers will purchase time that they can call upon in the event of an issue and the provider will commit to a Service Level Agreement (SLA) to respond to the issue during a certain time period.

We don’t think this is the right approach for these reasons.

  • If the assumption is that IT issues cost businesses real money, shouldn't we be trying to prevent them from happening in the first place?
  • The incentives are wrong – the more calls the IT provider gets, and the longer they take to fix the issue, the more money they get paid.
  • Every time the customer calls, it’s because they have a problem and therefore the user perception of the supplier (and IT) is often poor.
  • Upfront IT costs may seem lower but in reality they are lumpy between months and incredibly unpredictable.

Proactive IT managed services turns this model on its head. Providers use remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools to continually monitor the health and performance of the customers IT network—without any kind of disruption to their employees’ activities. These tools enable the early detection and remediation of issues before they cause downtime or data loss. Providers also generate regular reports that provide insight into the IT systems, including demonstrating the business value and services being received, which in turn helps the customer budget for future IT expenses.

So what are the characteristics of a true MSP?

  • Fixed price IT support – this aligns the customers’ real needs with the incentives of the supplier. Support should be provided on a per item basis i.e. price per workstation, server or network device. By providing services at a fixed cost, the supplier is “sharing” some of the risk of the operation of the environment and has a vested interest in ensuring that your environment is running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Should they do a good job, this should actually lower their costs and increases their profit which is a good thing!
  • Automated tools to assist the supplier with the management of the customer’s environment. These are typically known as RMM tools (Remote Management and Monitoring).

Hopefully this blog has given you an understanding of the key differences between the approaches and their importance when selecting an IT support provider.

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Tags: #Opinion
Apr
14

Keep Your IT Guy and Outsource IT Services, Too

Everyone in the office loves Eric. Sporting a different ironic t-shirt everyday, Eric is the one we call when technology spits in our face. Whether it’s a slow system, a bug that needs to be squashed, a website issue, or a crash that results in unexpected downtime and data loss, Eric is right there. Not only does he get to the bottom of any issue but he also rights the ship like he’s some sort of miracle- working captain who just happens to have a pretty wickedly funny Peter Griffin from Family Guy impersonation.

But business is growing and Eric is overworked. Eric has certain skills that you’d love to use to develop innovative applications and revenue-generating projects-- but he’s too busy running around fixing things that break. Or he’s performing the most mundane and routine tasks day-in-and-day-out just to keep things secure and running smoothly.

You get a sense that Eric’s overburdened and he’s saddled with too many responsibilities. His demeanour has changed from pleasant to moody. He’s listening to angrier metal and punk music and you’re noticing cracks in his work. You fear Eric is being pulled in too many directions and the reliability of your server, network, and applications, as well as the integrity of your data, are all at risk.

Someone who has watched a bit too much of Donald Trump on The Apprentice might think Eric should be fired. We’re not going to fire Eric. But we’re also not going to hire a full-time salaried Robin to his Batman or Cheech to his Chong. We’re going to help Eric by exploiting IT automation and managed services to handle many of the monotonous tasks making Eric hate his job right now.

 

Let’s help Eric….

1. Focus Primarily on Cost-Cutting and Revenue Increasing Projects: First things first, Eric has to realize that he can’t do everything himself. Where are his skills best used? Whether it’s processes that help drive down costs or ones with the potential to raise revenue, evaluate the projects in the queue and rank them by what impacts the bottom line the most.

Once that’s done, look at the day-to-day processes designed to keep things running securely and efficiently. What can be off-loaded from Eric? Determine which of those tasks can be automated either through the cloud or managed services.

2. Take to the Cloud: Some IT people fear the cloud spells the end to their job security. Meanwhile, the cloud can actually help them take on a more prominent contributing role in the company’s success.

The cloud should be seen as another tool that further eliminates the mundane yet necessary daily drudgery from their workday. Those who work WITH the cloud will find that they have more available time to take on more meaningful cost cutting or revenue generating projects.

3. Use a Managed Service Provider: Using outsourced managed services not only alleviates much of Eric’s pressure and stress, but also boosts productivity and gives the company a much improved ROI (Return-on- Investment) on their technology investment.

While technology has gotten easier for the end user, it has become more complex on the backend with the advent of virtualisation, cloud computing, and advanced infrastructure.

Using an MSP gives Eric access to a trusted advisor, a 24/7 help desk, remote monitoring and management tools, mobile device management tools, and much better disaster recovery and business continuity solutions. All without the overhead that comes with hiring more help for Eric. MSPs offer a consistency to not just your end-user but also your main IT guy who will certainly appreciate the help.

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Apr
14

Now You See It, There It... Stays: Decreasing business costs and risks of costly data loss

We live in a 24/7 global economy that is more dependent than ever on technology. Even the technology of small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) houses sensitive digital data - employee and customer information, internal emails, documents and financial records, sales orders and transaction histories. Not to mention applications and programs critical to daily business function and services.

Employees at SMEs require continuous access to the critical business data needed to meet the demands of the customers or clients they service. They even want this access while they’re at home or on the go running errands.

To satisfy this demand, many companies and organisations now allow employees to BYOD (Bring-Your-Own-Device) and “do business” using their personal  laptops, tablets and mobile phones. The web, Wi-Fi networks and mobile devices with robust memory and battery life have made this constant access to a SMEs back office infrastructure a reality. Regrettably this flexibility and freedom is accompanied by an ominous risk of data loss.

Just a single data loss or breach can be costly to SMEs. Data losses and leaks come with lingering continuous costs that many SMEs cannot easily shake or overcome. Revenue is lost if employee productivity and customer accessibility/ service are stalled by data loss. The expenses associated with internal research and investigation, system repair and maintenance, and data security protection are another heavy price SMEs must pay. If cybercrime is involved, affected customers must be notified, the potential exists for litigation, and many customers will likely never return due to mistrust.

While corporate-level data losses are well publicised, many SMEs mistakenly believe their data isn’t at risk. This mistake can prove to be a costly one.

 

Why C-Suite Management at SMEs Can No Longer Ignore Data Loss

▪ Following a significant data loss, it is estimated that SMEs can lose up to 25% in daily revenue by the end of the first week.

▪ According to the National Archives & Records Administration in Washington, 93% of companies that have experienced data loss, and  prolonged downtime for ten or more days have filed for bankruptcy within twelve  months of the incident. 50% wasted no time and filed for bankruptcy  immediately. 43% of companies with no data recovery and business continuity plan actually go out of business following a major data loss.

How quickly can your business be restored if critical data is lost? When was the last time backup processes were tested to ensure all data is recoverable and business operations are quickly restored?

▪ A survey conducted by Symantec SME revealed that fewer than half of SMEs surveyed backup their data each week. Only 23% of those surveyed said they backup data every day and have a business continuity plan in place.

▪ The percentage of cybercriminal attacks targeting businesses with fewer than 250 employees doubled in 2012. The vulnerabilities of naive small business owners have been noted, and hackers have now placed the proverbial bull’s-eye on these perceived weak links. If sensitive customer data is leaked, SMEs may face overwhelming financial liabilities, which could include reimbursing affected customers and legal fees.

▪ BYOD isn’t a trend or passing fad. It is here to stay and the fact of the matter is businesses no longer own the devices used by employees. This is unprecedented. It’s not as if the employees of yesterday could haul home their file cabinets and desk. This obviously comes with a number of data security risks. The number of networks, applications, and end points where data can be accessed has multiplied with BYOD. Who manages these devices? Who secures these devices? Do SMEs have the right to back up data on machines they do not own? If an employee loses a laptop, or goes AWOL on the company, what data do they have and does anyone else in the company have access to it?

 

Management Is On Notice

Businesses today are playing on a much bigger playing field than they were two decades ago. Any SME that trusts the security and backup of critical business data with a limited and overburdened in-house IT team, or forsakes internal IT support altogether for emergency on- call help when things go bad (Break/Fix Mentality), is playing with fire and begging to be burned.

Any disruptive or invasive technological event - even the smallest of incidents - can have an amplified impact on day-to-day business and profitability. Being proactive with data recovery solutions, and having emergency response procedures in place prior to a disruption or data disaster, is the only way to get critical data restored immediately to the data centre, minimise downtime, protect customer and client data and soften the impact of such events.

 

Data Security Threats Every SME Must Be Aware Of

Human Error and Employee Negligence

Human error, by way of unintentional data deletion, modification, and overwrites, has become much more prevalent in recent years. Much of this is the result of carelessly managed virtualisation technology. Virtualisation and cloud computing have enabled improved business continuity by allowing entire servers – including all data, operating systems, applications, and patches to be grouped into one software bundle or virtual server and subsequently backed up. The catch is humans must still instruct this technology how to perform, which is why so much of today’s data loss is linked to human error.

The complexity of these systems often presents a learning curve that involves quite a bit of trial by error. For example, a support engineer can accidentally overwrite his backup when he forgets to power off his replication software prior to formatting volumes on the primary site.

While most CIOs at SMEs are generally accepting and understanding that mistakes happen, they must be more stringent when it comes to managing risky negligent employee behaviours in this era of mobility and accessibility. Employee negligence puts a company or organisation’s critical business data at risk of being stolen by cybercriminals or malicious employees. Examples of this negligent behaviour include:

▪ Leaving computer systems unattended

▪ Weak passwords (“password” or “12345”) or passwords that aren’t frequently changed

▪ Opening email attachments or clicking hyperlinks embedded with spam

▪ Visiting restricted websites

Employee Mobility & Data Exposure

In the modern-day BYOD workplace, more people are doing daily business on their personal laptops, iPads and Blackberrys. They are also carrying around portable media like thumb drives, USB sticks and CDs.

These devices are not always backed up or secured by IT administrators. There is not only the potential for these devices to be lost or stolen but there is also a very high probability that employees using them are also accessing personal email, downloading music, browsing the web, playing games and hanging out on Facebook. This makes sensitive data susceptible to malware, viruses and hackers. All of this substantially ups the likelihood of data loss incidents.

 

Four Ways SMEs Can Minimise Data Loss

▪ Enforce Data Security

This is more or less the managing of the “human factor.” CIOs and those in SME management roles must communicate data protection policies to staff and ensure their implementation. Rules must be set, particularly with personal devices, to enforce security policies. It can  be as simple as sending reminders to not open email attachments from unknown sources, requiring passwords be reset every few months or the banning of specific file sharing or social networking sites.

In May of 2012, security concerns led to over 400,000 IBM employees being banned from using the cloud storage service Dropbox and Siri – the iPhone personal assistant. While far from an SME, if IBM can go that far and make such a demand to so many employees, a insurance agent can certainly remind his or her marketing representative to  not  play Farmville on Facebook if they’re using a laptop containing company and customer/client data.

▪ Stress the consequences

Both personal and business – of not properly protecting confidential data. Encourage employees to make passwords difficult to crack. Patch holes in the infrastructure’s walls by identifying the most critical data. Perhaps a trusted IT advisor can help implement processes to better protect that data’s security perimeters.

▪ Mobile Device Management

Mobile Device Management grants SMEs a semblance of control over the mobile devices used within the company. Devices tapping into company systems are identified and remotely monitored and managed 24/7. More importantly, they are proactively secured via specified password policies, encryption settings, and automated compliance actions. Lost or stolen devices can be located and either locked or stripped of all SME-related data.

▪ Snapshots

Fully backing up large amounts of data can be a lengthy process. The data being backed up is also vulnerable to file corruption from read errors. This means sizeable chunks of data may not be stored in the backup and be unavailable in the event of a full restore. This can be avoided by backing up critical data as snapshots, which are read-only copies of data frozen to a specific point in time and stored using minimal disk space. These virtual snapshots are immediately available for restores in the event of data loss.

▪ Cloud Replication and Disaster Recovery Services

The cloud provides SMEs who consider data backup to be too costly, time consuming and complex with a cost-effective, automated off-site data replication process that provides continuous availability to business-critical data and applications. Cloud replication can often get systems back online in under an hour following a data loss.

 

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Jan
15

Three Steps To Fix IT Management for SMEs

Small-to-medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) tend to have a more difficult time managing IT than larger enterprises. Despite being as technology dependent as larger enterprises, SMEs have tighter budgets and fewer resources to devote to IT management. This leads to a more reactive “break-fix” approach to their technology that never does any smaller company or organisation any good.  In this blog, I'll take you through three practical steps to help you better manage your technology.

Here’s what break fix most often leads to. If the burden rests on the shoulders of hourly or salaried in-house IT support, and they’re too busy putting out fires all day, then their skills and talents are essentially wasted.

If there is no in-house tech support, and many smaller companies and organisations don’t have even one onsite “IT guy”, SMEs are commonly taken for a ride by some of the more unscrupulous on-call IT consultants.

Although “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a popular saying, it should never be applied to the management of business technology. The cost of downtime can crush any barely surviving small business. The combined impact of lost revenue, lost productivity, and lost brand reputation is a severe hit that many SMEs aren’t built to withstand. 

It pays to be proactive, not a reactive about technology. This requires a cultural shift from how IT has commonly been handled in the past. Say goodbye to manual, yet necessary, processes and hello to a better way for businesses to meet their technology needs - a smarter and more cost-efficient way.

Three Steps To Better Manage Your Business Technology

Be Proactive

More often than not, it’s the things that aren’t caught early on that turn into costly business disruptions. For instance, many of the hardware, software, and application failures that cause downtime occurrences are preventable; they’re just not detected and addressed early enough. 

SMEs today have the advantage of using a Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) tool to help their existing in-house support staff get a grip on their workload.

A RMM tool, combined with an outsourced 24/7 Network Operations Centre (NOC), monitors your technology all day and all through the night via one comprehensive interface that is even accessible with a mobile device. This kind of around the clock monitoring transforms technology management. Problems can be nipped in the bud with an alert and prompt ticket resolution before they turn into major issues that disrupt day-to-day operations.

Automate/Schedule Mundane Tasks

Free the in-house support staff from everyday manual maintenance and monitoring by automating a broad range of IT security and monitoring tasks.

Get More From Your In-House Team

If you have any in-house IT support, you’ve likely hired some incredibly skilled and talented people who would be more worthy contributors to your company or organisation if they weren’t always so tied up fixing things and performing monotonous tasks.

With RMM and NOC solutions, SMEs can put these individuals to work on projects that matter. They are freed-up to work on concepts, strategies, and application development that better serve your customers, employees, and suppliers, truly giving business a competitive advantage.

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Dec
30

4 Reasons You Must Migrate From Windows XP Now

Any business still using the Windows XP operating system must come to terms that  their borrowed time is coming to an end. On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will no longer support XP. Microsoft has continued to support XP through three releases – the unfortunate rollout of Vista followed by the Windows 7 and Windows 8 releases. By ending its support of XP, Microsoft is acknowledging that Windows 7 and 8, unlike Vista, are the successors of XP and they’re finally ready to move on. But what does this mean to small businesses that aren’t quite ready to say goodbye to XP?

 

The research firm Gartner has projected that roughly 15% of small to midsize  businesses will still be running Windows XP on at least 10% of their PCs when Microsoft support ends. While migrating from Windows XP is complex - requiring a detailed plan, fixed budget, testing, deployment, and training - SMBs today can’t continue to put it off. The Windows XP migration process needs to get underway sooner rather than later with April 8th cutoff date looming. Here are four reasons why SMBs must migrate now from XP.

  1. Businesses in industries with compliance regulations requiring up-to-date software to protect information, such as the financial sector, may face legal repercussions with the continued use of an outdated operating system. Such vulnerabilities could allow attackers to literally take over and cripple any PC that continues to run XP.
  2. While Microsoft has recently extended XP anti-malware updates through July 2015, without Microsoft updating other XP security patches, businesses that continue to run XP will be exposed and defenceless against new threats specifically designed to exploit XP.
  3. XP compatible printers, scanners, and software such as McAfee and Symantec, will no longer be made.
  4. The longer XP is used, the greater the liability becomes, and the more expensive it will get for small businesses to continue supporting an unsupported operating system.

Time is no longer on your side. It’s time to finally migrate from Windows XP before it negatively impacts business productivity, reputation, and your bottom line.

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Dec
29

Relax... Windows XP Migration Doesn’t Have to Be Such a Headache

If you’re a small-to-midsize business owner still using computers running on the Windows XP operating system, enough is enough! The end is near. On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will stop supporting XP. Whether you’re migrating from XP out of this sheer necessity, or you’ve been contemplating upgrading to a newer Windows operating system anyhow, here are a few things to consider.

Take Full Advantage of Newer Deployment and Management Options

There will naturally be a significant amount of retraining and app testing needed when you migrate from Windows XP to Windows 7 or 8. This may be the right time to upgrade your server and all desktop platforms to the most recent releases. On the server front, Windows Server 2012 R2 offers small businesses improved storage, virtualisation, uptime, and much wider support for mobile devices. 

Seek Outside Help

Anyone still running XP this close to the detonation date has very limited time. Although Microsoft has extended its offering of anti-malware updates to XP users through July 2015, come April 8th, your business will still be more susceptible to cyber- security threats if you are not fully migrated to Windows 7 or Windows 8. Organising a full-scale migration at this juncture may require the help of an expert Managed Service Provider (MSP) in your area who can use various automated tools to simplify migration processes.

Update Hardware 

If you’re still running Windows XP, chances are you’re using outdated hardware as well. Any machine currently running slow with XP will most likely be unable to handle a Win7 or Win8 upgrade. Although it’s more expensive, updating hardware in conjunction with upgrading your operating system may save you money in the long run. Not to mention make for happier workers. This may also be a good time to fully embrace the bring- your-own-device workplace.

Alter Your Approach Moving Forward

Windows XP is thirteen years old. It was introduced one month prior to the September 11th terrorist attacks.  Beyonce was topping the charts... as a member of Destiny’s Child. Friends reigned supreme as the number #1 show on network television. Support for Windows XP was supposed to end in 2011 but the poorly received release of Windows Vista offered a reprieve that is very unlikely to be repeated.

Moving forward, it’s important for SMEs to never put themselves in this situation again and to strictly adhere to Microsoft’s recommended yearly update cycle.

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Oct
07

Understanding Managed Services and How They Benefit SMEs

Posted by Markus McIver in Opinion, MSP

Small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) receive a lot of calls each day from slick sales people peddling the next technology trend that’s going to save them money and revolutionise how they do business. They’re all too quick to caution that if you don’t listen to them, you’ll fall behind the times, and eventually be swimming in a sea of debt and out of business.

No doubt you’ve heard, or you’ve at least read about, the benefits of managed services. Managed services refer to clearly defined outsourced IT services delivered to you at predictable costs. You know the exact IT services you’ll be getting and what you’ll pay for them. There is no surprise sky-high bill for services rendered. So are solicitation calls that pertain to managed services worth listening to? We think so. Then again, we’re in the managed services industry.  There may be a bit of a bias here.

How Managed Service Providers Work

Managed service providers (MSPs) use remote monitoring and management (RMM) tools to keep an eye on their performance and overall health of the IT infrastructure that powers your business operations.  Your MSP should have a 24/7 Network Operations Center (NOC) that acts as your mission control center. If the monitoring alerts them to any issue with your servers, devices, hardware or software, they respond quickly to resolve the issue.

Additionally, the NOC performs regular systems maintenance such as

  • Automated tasks like the cleaning of temporary files
  • Applying tested security patches as required
  • Installing virus and Malware protection
  • System backup and disaster recover/business continuity processes

Additionally, your MSP should give you access to a Help Desk that services your customers and employees – speaking to and working with them directly as if they’re part of your staff.  This proactive maintenance, stabilisation of your IT environment, and rapid as- needed remediation helps SMEs control technology costs and better serve the end-users who rely on their technology.

Is Managed Services Better than Other Ways to Manage IT

We find that far too many companies have no real perspective about how much IT management costs them. Let’s review some of the alternatives to managed services.

Hiring In-House IT Support

Typically, a firm with anywhere from 20-60 employees may feel that one person can manage their technology. Understand that this one full-time employee can demand a significant salary since they’ll have to be proficient with desktop, server and network support, and interact with both end-users in the Help Desk role and management. They will likely be overworked and vulnerable to error or oversights that may prove to be costly. And what happens if they’re out sick or on vacation?

The Break/Fix Mentality

The majority of smaller companies take this route because they feel as if they’re too small for a more sophisticated 24/7 approach to IT management. They also feel pressure to direct all resources on the product or service, not behind-the- scenes operations. They decide to use on-call IT techs when broken technology has already disrupted business.  The on-call team’s response time and overall lack of familiarity with your systems extends downtime and proves to be a much more expensive resolution to IT management. It’s reactive, not proactive, and it’s a costly mistake too often made.

This is why many SMEs today feel that managed services are the most cost- effective way to support their IT infrastructure and the best way to get more bang for their buck.

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Tags: #Opinion, #MSP

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